Interview: Fanfarlo

For a long while JUICE didn’t get into the whole indie folk palaver. It reminded us of toothless farmers, banjos and Red-nex’s horrific dance folk fusion ‘Cotton Eye Joe’, or worse the musical version of an over wrought European art house flick where nothing happens slowly. It made us want to wash out our ears with drain cleaner. And then we stumbled upon Fanfarlo. Flown to Gold Coast in Queensland for Splendour In The Grass in August 2010, JUICE met Fanfarlo’s Leon Beckenham and Justin Finch backstage, who despite professing to needing their space seem happy to carry on the conversation without us.

Text + Interview Muna Noor
Transcript Emma Lee

Formed by Simon Balthazar, the London sextet (with Amos Memon, Cathy Lucas, Justin Finch and Leon Beckenham) sound like a rowdy alcohol-soaked, acoustic-led barnyard melee and, like a sepia photograph from the turn of the century, look the part too.

Fanfarlo’s 2009 debut (and only album date) Reservoir is pure acoustic joy, jigging surefooted between Arcade Fire, Modest Mouse and Mumford & Sons territory.  Led by singles ‘The Walls Are Coming Down’ and ‘Harold T Wilkins…’ the 11 track effort piles on a lush cacophony of instruments – a whirling riot of uplifting strings (mandolin, violin and jangly guitars), mournful trumpets and clarinets, and quirky glockenspiel and  melodica, that simultaneously swoon,  sway and celebrate. It’s gained Fanfarlo fans in Bowie and Jonsi and their impeccable live set won over the McLennan tent at Splendour In The Grass. Take it away boys….

Hi! How are you and when did you get here?
We’ve been here about 3 days. 3 days and nights. Just enough time to get over the hideous jet lag.
Leon: Just about.
Justin: I think we’re still in the throes of it.
Leon: The last 2 days has been experienced through the fog of pretty heavy jet lag.

And through that fog, what have you been doing?
I’ve been walking around a whole bunch. Never been to Brisbane before so I walked around for hours and hours and hours and the muscles in my legs and feet are completely shot now, due to the fact that my body’s not used to walking that much.
Leon: Are you going to have to sit down for the show?
Justin: Yeah, I wanna get a massage. I’ll see if they can concentrate on my lower body….

Ah. Err. Okay. Moving along … what accounts for your band’s sound? It’s hard to believe that it came out of the UK, it sounds very American.
I guess it’s a sum of our influences over the years. Where as our next record will be a sum of a whole different bunch of influences, you know.
Leon: It’s definitely born out of a desire to make sort of big, epic songs with sort of lush orchestral arrangements. We all play a few instruments, so it’s all a case of just exploring what we could do with what we had.

What kind of music are you currently listening to?
As far as inspiration for music, you’d have to speak to Simon, who writes the band’s songs. [The next record will be] definitely things that are a lot more angular and to a lot more to the point and in your face than the last record.
Leon: We all seem to be listening to different music at any one time.
Justin: We definitely have a desire to make something starker, slightly stripped back a bit. But maybe that’s not to do with our influences, just a reaction to the last record.

I’m ashamed to admit but I came across you music watching TV, the er, David Letterman Show. For other people, it might be watching Grey’s Anatomy. So between TV, radio and film, what do you think is a key way of promoting your music?
I think playing gigs is the main one, right? When you’re a new band, you just have to sort of tour, tour, tour and just hit it hard. ‘Cause that’s the way people will get excited. You go to a gig and it’s word of mouth….
Leon: We’ve certainly put a lot of leg work in. We toured the States to death pretty much this and last year. We got a lot of radio love…. I think playing festivals like this (Splendour) has a lot of impact, because you’re often playing to people who don’t necessarily know your music. They just happen to be at the festival. You can reach thousands of people with a live show.
Justin: We kind of like doing movies and stuff; we enjoy seeing our music go to with another artistic medium. But what is the most influential form? I don’t know….

Speaking of movies and stuff, you guys used an escape artist for the video of ‘The Walls Are Coming Down’….
The imagery was important for a while. A few of us were reading books on that sort of thing, time and place. And we had an idea for a music video which involved an escapologist. The music has things about that, escape and stuff. It might be sort of pretentious….
Leon: It’s just a crude metaphor.
Justin: A crude, crude metaphor (laughs). We then did that live as well. We like the idea of having set up this performance on stage, instead of having other acts that went on before us. So we played a song whilst a dude was trying to escape whilst hanging upside down from the stage. We did that in New York.
Leon: It was quite nerve-wracking because the guy didn’t want to do a rehearsal. Somehow he managed to time it to perfection. It all worked out.

Going on to the topic of escape, how do you guys escape, get away from it all?
Just get away from each other.
Leon: Yeah, especially when we’re on tour.

Hahaha … I’m feeling the love right now.
Sometimes when you’re on tour, it can start getting a little bit claustrophobic, because you’re stuck with the same people 24 hours a day, sort of shunted from one venue to the next. So I think we relish any opportunity to have a bit of breathing space.
Justin: Some people like solitary time more than others.
Leon: This is true, yes, this is true…. (Laughs.)

What about books then? Do you guys escape into books? Man that sounds nerdy….
I’ve just finished a really good book called Alone In Berlin by Hans Fallada. That was written just after the Second World War. Highly recommended.
Justin: I’ve been reading a ton of science fiction. It relates to the band I think. Simon also is getting into a lot of science fiction. Just the concept of big ideas, far out concepts is something that we dig in the band. I’ve been reading a lot of Ian M Banks, who’s quite a political science-fiction writer. It’s really good. Simon just read God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens. Cathy is actually reading science fiction too, she’s reading the niche, black interests type of science fiction.

Does it bother you at all that science fiction is rapidly catching up with the present? And isn’t it all very bleak?
Justin: Is it bleak? No, it’s not bleak at all! It all feels very natural, doesn’t it?
Leon: Yeah, I think it’s quite exciting if anything. The possibilities do seem to be expanding. The possibilities of where technology is going to take us is fascinating.
Justin: I think that one thing that is bleak and does freak me out is if I’m in the street, in a public space and there’s a massive TV. That freaks me out, it makes me feel like I’m in Running Man, in a sort of run down, almost post-apocalyptic future.
Leon: I know what you mean. It’s like when you get a TV on the bus or something, it can be a bit freaky. You think the future has arrived, and now what?
Justin: People standing around a big screen in a public space weirds me out slightly, it really does.
Leon: But sci-fi is often quite pessimistic, isn’t it? It imbues our feeling about the future. It makes the future seem like this place we should be wary of.
Justin: Dystopian.
Leon: Yeah, exactly. There’s very little utopian sci-fi, but who knows?
Justin: I do know … you don’t read it.
Leon: I’ve read it….

Since JUICE has been flown here by Air Asia X, we’re curious to know, if you guys could hop on a plane and go anywhere in the world where would you go?
I’d fly right into the sun.

Would be a bit hot….
Do Air Asia go to the sun?

Not yet. They may, they’re all set to conquer the galaxy.
North Korea.

What would you want to see there? What would you do?
Not sure you can do a lot.
Justin: Yeah, I wouldn’t do very much…. I’d like to see that sort of grand delusion on a massive scale.

JUICE caught up with Leon and Justin of Fanfarlo at Splendour In The Grass in Woodford in Queensland, Australia. We were flown there by Air Asia X. Air Asia X flies to Gold Coast near Woodford daily. Book your flights to Gold Coast or any other Air Asia X destination by clicking to Be a fan of Fanfarlo and hit up

You can also watch Brian Gonzalez documentary on the band’s 3rd SXSW music festival outing in Under the Reservoir.